Marie Antoinette: Queen of Fashion – Hair

Marie Antoinette, properly “coifed”

The Duc de Choiseul was the strongest French advocate for the marriage between Marie Antoinette and Louis Auguste, Dauphin of France. However, he wanted to make sure that he was waging all his power and influence on a suitable match. One of his biggest complaints about Marie Antoinette was her hair. According to sources, the young Archduchess had an “unruly mess of reddish-blond curls [which were] habitually worn pulled back off her forehead with a harsh woolen band that ripped at her scalp. The band, however, was beginning to cause unsightly bald patches along the archduchess’s hairline.” This style also gave Marie Antoinette an unusually large forehead, which was considered very unbecoming. Thus, a French hairdresser was brought to Austria and managed Antoinette’s unruly hair into a lovely coif à la française. Almost immediately, the women at the Austrian court began wearing their hair in this manner. Even before she arrived in France, Marie Antoinette was already a trend setter.

This lovely little coif originated with Madame de Pompadour, the famous mistress of Louis XV. The style was a rather low, powdered up-sweep which was then adorned with flowers, gems, or other baubles.

Once in France, the little coif began to grow and grow. Every day, the new Dauphine’s hairdresser, Monsieur Larsenneur, would tease her hair with hot irons and curling papers then pile it up high over a wool and wire form. He would then blow white powder over it. The whole process took an hour. The pulling of her hair and the heavy up-do were said to have given the poor girl headaches.

II. The Queen’s Ministers of Fashion:

An example of a great Pouf depicting a military campaign.

With the death of Louis XV, Marie Antoinette not only became Queen of France, but also Queen of the “Pouf.” Together, Rose Bertin, the Queen’s dress designer, and Monsieur Leonard Autie, the Queen’s hairdresser, cultivated the over-the-top look Marie Antoinette is famous for. Together, they designed and created the great “pouf.” Depending on the latest trend, these massive headpieces could consist of a military campaign being fought atop a lady’s head, or perhaps a bird singing from within a birdcage.

Perhaps Marie Antoinette’s most famous ‘do was a large and exact replica of La Belle Poule, a warship, set atop her head on a sea of curls. She reputedly said that she wore it to show her support for the French efforts in the American Revolution. She said that the French needed money for ships more than she needed new diamonds, however the people were not impressed. They used the ridiculous hairstyle to epitomize the Queen’s extravagance and how out of touch she was with the people.

III. A More Simplistic ‘Do:

The Duchess de Polignac in a Straw Hat, Popular at the Petit Trianon

Though Marie Antoinette’s dress became much simpler at Trianon, that does not mean her hair did. According to Caroline Weber, the pouf was not abandoned initially. Rather, the hair adornments had to be within the pastoral mode, such as rolling hills, woodland groves, streams, sheep, flowers, and fruits and vegetables. As time went on, the styles did become more simplistic. Rather than the extravagant poufs, many nobles began piling their hair and adorning it with a small vase filled with water and fresh cut flowers. Powder also began to disappear, as did the use of make-up. Au naturel became to way.

Atop the ladys’ heads now sat simple white and lace bonnets, adorned only with small sprays of fresh flowers. Soon, straw hats also came into mode, also set with small spays of fresh flowers. These hats came in two styles, the “chapeau a la Marlborough” and the “chapeau a la Devonshire.” The first was named after Marie Antoinette’s Marlborough Tower at the Hamlet, and the second after Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. The hat was not liked by many, as it had a tendency to hid much of the wearer’s hair and, sometimes, face. Many others were upset by this new look, and complained that the Queen looked like a peasant girl, which completely disrupted the social hierarchy.

Male wearing the Catogan-style. This “ponytail”-like style was often accented with a large bow holding the hair in the back.

After the birth of the Dauphin, Marie Antoinette had a problem. During the pregnancy, some of her hair had fallen out, leaving a few bald patches. When teasing it and piling it up into a Pouf caused even more hair loss, Leonard cut the Queen’s hair short in the “coiffure a l’enfant.” Many noble women quickly followed suit and cut their hair.

Another style, representative of a less femanine approach was the shortly lived catogan style. Women began wearing their hair much like a man, in a low ponytail tied with a large ribbon. Because the style was so unfeminine, even the King didn’t allow it. Rather than banishing the style with a word, he arrived at the Queen’s apartment with a large Pouf atop his head. When she asked about it, he smugly replied that since she wanted to wear her hair as a man, he would wear his as a woman. Antoinette understood and did not wear the style again.

IV. A Revolution in Fashion:

Marie Antoinette on the Way to Execution

Though the Royal Family was taken to Paris from Versailles, the Queen continued to wear her Poufs and elegant silk dresses. In fact, she quickly abandoned her pastoral-style gowns and ‘do’s to appear more Queenly, setting herself above the peasants. However, once the family was moved to the Temple prison, Marie Antoinette’s hairstyles became non-existent. Leonard, despite a brief sojourn in France upon the family’s return from Varennes, was gone. Rose Bertin was still in the Queen’s service, however her job now consisted of the occasional re-trimming and mending of the Queen’s few simple linen bonnets which were now her only hair adornment. At some point during this time, Marie Antoinette’s hair became “white with misfortune.” Most likely, the Queen lost all luster and color in her hair due to the stress of the Revolution, as well as several near death experiences at the hands of angry mobs.

After the death of Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette retained her simple linen bonnets, though they were now colored black. The last hairstyle the Queen wore was a return to the “coiffure de l’enfant.” In the early morning hours of the day of her execution, Samson the executioner came to the Queen’s cell and chopped off all her hair in preparation for the guillotine. As she had before her hair had been cut, the Queen wore only a simple linen cap. This picture was in stark contrast to the intricate and extravagant Poufs the Queen had become so famous for.

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